Faith story: Redefining passion
Editor’s note: Emma Tews is a senior in high school. She recently shared her faith story during Sunday Night Live.
If you know my family, you know that I have two sisters and we look and act very similarly because we are so close. I grew up as my older sister’s sidekick. I was her little pet horse or do, ever her little reindeer named Antlers when she would play Mrs. Claus. I grew up thinking that following in her footsteps was the right thing to do. She was well-liked, and everything she did or made was beautiful, and I wanted to be like that. She was involved in dance, volleyball, band, tennis, and worked hard in school. So, I began dance classes at the age of 3, I joined volleyball, I took tennis lessons, I played the flute, and I worked hard in school.
But then I realized that this wouldn’t help me create my identity. I wanted to be noticed, and I wanted people to know Emma as someone who was more than Marah’s little sister.
One day my mom compared me and Marah to the right and left sides of the brain. If you know anything about psychology, the right side is more creative, the more colorful side (Marah), while they left side is the more logistical, disciplined side (me). I embraced this difference and decided that disciplining myself in literally every aspect of my life would help me stand out.
With music, I decided to try out for an honor band in 8th grade, and made myself practice every single day. I vividly remember my dad coming into my room one day to drop something off as I was practicing. “There’s the daily scales,” he said.
With dance, I perfected every movement and focused on the dance part more than being a part of the community of friends.
With school, I gave 110 percent effort for all of my projects, even if it was just a simple brochure in health class about what a healthy lifestyle looks like.
Yes, all this hard work did pay off. I was accepted as the second chair into the band, I received my studio’s inspirational dancer award this past year, and I maintained all As in school. The feeling of accomplishing something I had worked so hard on felt good, but only for a moment or a few days. The work that I was doing was more draining than it was fulfilling. There was an evident lack of self care. I was always sleep deprived, and didn’t have a clue about what a healthy mental health routine looked like. But my attention wasn’t focused there. I strove to make my difficult lifestyle look effortless. I didn’t want anyone to see how overwhelming it could be, and how thinly I was stretched.
I haven’t even brought up God once yet, but that’s because I don’t believe that God was really present at this point in my life. As a little kid, I believed God existed, but didn’t form a strong bond with God. Same with confirmation. Then all of this was going on through the early years of high school, and I left God out of the picture.
God re-entered my life when God knew I reached the breaking point. It was a Wednesday night. Let me tell you about my Wednesdays in the spring of junior year. It was a time when three sports (tennis, dance, and volleyball) overlapped. I woke up at 6 a.m. to go to early bird weightlifting, then would go through school, then tennis immediately after school, then headed to volleyball, then dance, and then arrive home at 10:30 p.m. But of course I couldn’t go to bed without studying and playing my flute. I would say a quick “hey” to my parents, shower, study, play my flute, and go to be around 1-2 a.m., sometimes even 3.
I was caught up in this relentless cycle, and my body finally tapped out and said “I’ve had enough.” During this Wednesday night, I looked over my to-do list, and my body just said no. All of the reminders written down started repeating themselves in my head, and I started to shake, and couldn’t take a deep breath, and the tears started coming, and it was all too much. I started thinking that I wasn’t going to be able to do this anymore, but then I was afraid that people would see me as weak, and that I was slacking off, and that I would lose my only sense of identity.
I looked up above my bed and saw this picture that Marah, my older sister, made for me when we redid this room. On it, was a quote. I finally understood its meaning.
I finally understood there was help, that this is how I form a relationship with God. God created heaven and earth together, and they are within one another. God meant for people to build real relationships, and to be happy with their lives, and to not be perfect all of the time. This picture brought Marah back into my life, but I know used her difference (being artistic) to help me with my difference (being overly disciplined). In that moment, I found a release of stress, and tension, anxiety, and realized that there was a different way to live life.
I realized that before, I was just skimming the surface of life, even though I was dedicating my whole self to every activity. If you imagine the floor of a desert, I was just trying to cover as much land as I could to reach an oasis/relief. But now, I realize that you’ll only find the sweetness of life within its cracks, like the relief the cracks of the desert floor bring to something trying to escape the intense heat of the sun. I finally understood the definition of grace, being lenient when you’re pushing hard. I realized that I needed to incorporate real passion into my life and not focus on being so disciplined and rigid.
Now, I’m still doing the same activities, but I find it easier to live in the moment, and appreciate the art of music and the art of dance, and the relationships I build with each one. I’ve redirected my energy to make life meaningful, and slowing down rather than just trying to accomplish and perfect every little thing. In doing so, I’m not drained, I get energy out of socializing with others and out of feeling proud of how beautiful something is, not necessarily how difficult it is.
While creating these more meaningful relationships in the communities that used to be the foundatino of my stress – school, dance, and band – I realized that people will love me regardless of what I achieve or don’t achieve. I know that yes “I look to the mountains, but my help will always come from the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.”